Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Senator Tommy Banks: What Canadians have lost under this “Harper” Gov't. (Unabridged)

(Although I personally would not attibute "diabolically clever" to Mr. Harper. Ed.)

Tommy Banks,
Canadian conductor and pianist,
host of the CBC television’s “The Tommy Banks Show” for 15 years.

—– Original Message —–

Sent: Wednesday, April 13, 2011 11:33 PM
Subject: Tom Banks
A letter from my partner Tom Banks
by Sharman King on Wednesday, April 13, 2011 at 10:39am

I apologize for this long re-post, but I’d like to share with my friends this letter from my business partner and musical associate Senator Tommy Banks. It’s worth noting that Tom was a Conservative when he was appointed to the Senate. If you agree with this food for thought please feel free to send it to your friends of whatever political stripe. The bigger message here is how we want our government to behave, no matter who forms that government. Here’s Tom’s missive: (unedited)

"There is only one thing about the outcome of the May 2nd election on which Mr. Ignatieff and Mr. Harper agree. It is that one of them will be the Prime Minister of Canada. Mr. Layton, Mr. Duceppe and Ms. May are not in the running to form a government. They can't. It will be either Mr. Ignatieff or Mr. Harper.

That is the choice, and it is a very clear – in fact, stark choice. We will choose between openness or secrecy. Between listening or refusing to listen. Between someone who respects Parliament or someone who disdains it. Between things we can and will do now or things that, (provided of course that everything goes well), we might do in five or six years. Between someone who answers all questions from Canadians, or someone who won't accept any.

Between Mr. Harper who said “It’s past time the feds scrapped the Canada Health Act”, or Mr. Ignatieff who said “ . . . we don't want user fees. We want universal, accessible, free-at-the-point-of-service health care, paid out of general revenue. That’s just bottom line. Otherwise we get two-tiered”.

Between buying jets or helping vets. Between real early childhood learning and care or Saturday-night babysitting. Between respect for our great institutions or contempt for them. Between helping families or helping big corporations. Between the Canada that we think we have, or the way in which Mr. Harper has already changed it.

Over the past few years Mr. Harper’s government has quietly engineered so many changes that there are some ways in which our country is barely recognizable. Many of us don't yet realize the extent of those changes, because many of them have been brought about very carefully and gradually – almost imperceptibly in some cases.

This is diabolically clever. If these things had all been done at once, there would have been loud protests and reactions. But moving just one little brick at a time doesn't cause much fuss – until you realize that the whole house has been renovated. And we've hardly noticed.

These are changes that are at the very heart of who and what Canadians are. They are changes to the protections that used to exist against the tyranny of the majority – or against a single-minded my-way-or-the-highway autocrat. These changes are losses to our very Canadian-ness. Let me remind you of some of them:

The Law Commission of Canada was created by an Act of Parliament in 1997. It worked very well. It kept an eye in a sort-of avuncular way, on necessary reforms of the law, including election law. The Commission couldn't actually change law; but it was very good at letting governments and everybody else know when changes needed to be made and why. It was our legal Jiminy Cricket, and it performed a valuable service for Canada. The Commission was created by an Act of Parliament, and any government wanting to shut it down should have been up-front about it. It should have come to Parliament with a Bill to rescind The Law Commission of Canada Act. That’s what any of our 21 previous Prime Ministers would have done.

But to Mr. Harper, Parliament is an inconvenience. Somebody might ask “Why are you doing this?” But he didn't want to go through all that Parliamentary trouble; so, rather than proposing the abolition of the Commission (a proposal about which there would have been pretty fierce debate on all sides), they just eliminated all funding for it in the federal budget. Governments can do that. Poof – no Law Commission.

Nice and quiet. Just one little brick. Hardly noticed.

Then there was the Court Challenges Programme, set up in 1994, which was the means by which a bit of legal help could be provided to a private individual or small organization who didn't have a lot of money, and who was taking on, or being taken on by, the Government of Canada. It leveled the legal playing field a bit. It was a perfect example of fundamental Canadian fairness.

By convincing a tough panel of judges of the reasonableness of your cause, you could get a little help in paying for some lawyers to go up against the phalanx of legal beagles that could always, and forever, and at public expense, be brought to bear against you by the State. In other words, if you weren't rich, and if you were taking on or being taken on by the Feds, you might have had a chance. But Mr. Harper doesn't like being questioned, let alone challenged. It’s so inconvenient! Solution? Quietly announce that the Court Challenges Programme is being, er, discontinued. Poof – no Court Challenges Programme – no court challenges.

Hardly noticed.

The Coordination of Access to Information Request System (CAIRS) was created (by a Progressive-Conservative government) in 1989 so that departments of government could harmonize their responses to access-to-information requests that might need multi-departmental responses. It was efficient; it made sure that in most cases the left hand knew what the right hand was doing, or at least what they were saying; and it helped keep government open and accountable. Well, if you’re running a closed-door government, that’s not a good idea, is it? So, as a Treasury Board official explained to the Canadian Press, CAIRS was killed by the Harper government because “extensive” consultations showed it wasn't valued by government departments. I guess that means that the extensive consultations were all with government departments.

Wait! Wasn't there anybody else with whom to extensively consult? Wasn't there some other purpose and use for CAIRS? Didn't it have something to do with openness and accountability? I guess not. Robert Makichuk, speaking for Mr. Harper’s government, explained that “valuable resources currently being used to maintain CAIRS would be better used in the collection and analysis of improved statistical reporting”.

Right. In other words, CAIRS was an inconvenience to the government. So poof – it’s disappeared. And, except for investigative reporters and other people who might (horrors!) ask questions, its loss is hardly noticed.

And the bridge too far for me: Cutting the already-utterly-inadequate funding for the exposure of Canadian art and artists in other countries. That funding was, by any comparison, already laughably minuscule. Mr. Harper says that “ordinary” Canadians don't support the arts. He’s wrong. And his is now the only government of any significant country in the world that clearly just doesn't get it.

All these changes were done quietly, cleverly, and under the radar. No fuss. No outcry. Just one little brick at a time. But in these and other ways, our Canadian house is no longer the kind of place it once was. Nobody minds good renovations. Nobody even minds tearing something down, as long as we put up something better in its place. That’s not what has happened.

Mr. Harper fired the head of the Canadian Wheat Board because he was doing his job properly. He removed the head of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission because she wanted to make sure that the Chalk River nuclear reactor was safe.

Hardly noticed.

There are many more things that were hardly noticed: Cuts to funding for the Status of Women, Adult Learning and Literacy, Environmental Programs, museums funding, and more. All quietly, just one brick at a time.

Hardly noticed.

As to campaign promises, everybody in sight on every side is guilty of breaking those. Except the Federal NDP of course, who haven't yet had the opportunity. (It’s very easy to make promises that you know you will not likely have to keep).

But the government promised to end wait times in health care. They didn't. They promised to end, once and for all, the whining of some provinces about the non-existent “fiscal imbalance”. They didn't. They said they had brought final resolution to the softwood lumber problem with the U.S. They haven't. They promised to create thousands of new child-care spaces in Canada . They haven't. They promised not to tax income trusts (“We will NEVER do that!” they said). They taxed them. They promised to lower your income tax.

They raised it.

They said they had a good “made-in-Canada” plan to meet our obligations on climate change. They don't. Mr. Harper has said plainly that whatever the Americans do is what we'll do too.

They campaign on a platform of transparency and accountability; but they’re now trying to discredit the Parliamentary Budget Officer that they created, because he’s trying to do the job that they gave him. Mr. Harper said that our form of government, evolved over centuries from the 900-year-old British Westminster tradition, was all wrong. We had to have fixed election dates, because otherwise, democratic principles would be trampled. ”Fixed election dates”, he said, “stop leaders from trying to manipulate the calendar. They level the playing field for all parties”.

So Parliament (remember them?) at Mr. Harper’s insistence, passed a law requiring fixed election dates, which Mr. Harper promptly broke.

Somebody once said that we get the kind of government we deserve. What did we do to deserve Mr. Harper? He once said that we should all “Stand Up for Canada ”. Well, let’s do that. We just have to decide whether the present version of Canada is the one that we'll stand up for. Or stand for.

Thank you

Tommy Banks (an Alberta Senator.)"

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Elizabeth May in Edmonton - Pics and Podcast - Green Party Rally, EcoBall, and Vegan Potluck

Podcast of Elizabeth's speech on fiscal responsibility and the New Economy:

When Elizabeth May, Leader of the Green Party of Canada, visits Edmonton, as she does more often than most party leaders, I usually have the very great privilege of organizing her events and rallies.
We got the call in this election to pull it off on fairly short notice, election timing being what it is, so we pulled some ideas out of our previously brainstormed grab bag to make it show-stopper!  It's already Earth Week, and to help encourage those green-minded folks who might want to check out a party rather than just a political rally, as well as to reach out to our younger population, we whipped up the EcoBall!

We rented the Avenue Theatre on 118th ave in my riding. It's the first time we used it, and it's a great little space, by the way.  Very reasonable for the capacity and facilities it provides, and the staff were more than helpful...  For refreshments, we brought in fair trade coffee, tea, and organic juice.

When we looked into food, however, it turned out that even the most inexpensive vegan caterer would cost more than the rest of the event put together!  Georges Laraque, our Deputy Leader and NHL sports star, is vegan and very publicy so.  In order to promote vegan menus and encourage creativity, we came up with a vegan potluck.  The door price was reduced to a pittance to those who brought a vegan dish for 10 people, and we had so many people taking advantage of our offer that two tables with filled with fantastic contributions.  Some even brought warming dishes to keep their creations toasty!

Setting up at the start of the evening
 The EcoBall is a new idea in Edmonton, so most came in street clothes, though the ones that came in costume certainly made up for it!
Christie in Green: the Creatrix and heart of Garbaganza - EcoCouture from dumpster diving!

Mother Earth from Garbaganza - Made from Astroturf!
More Garbaganza originals!

The Leader of the Pirate Party of Canada won our costume contest!
In the space of about a week and half, we got together at least three bands, as well as fillers to vamp if necessary, to entertain and liven up the crowd before Elizabeth's arrival. Which was a good thing, too, as her train was an hour late! Even I needed to pitch in, but it was so hectic that I forgot to tape my performance...

Local hot C&W band the Backstreet Affair.

Local busking celebrity piper, personal friend and Green Party supporter Glenn Eilers pitched in, too.


We had a few ecovendors for interest. 

My booth - just to keep my hats straight, my apprentice got to keep all she made..

The Edmonton Bicycle Communters didn't return my emails.  I heard a rumour that it was because they were worried about becoming too political.  My answer to that, and to all NPO's trying to make a difference, is that to change laws, one must become politcal.  Laws are made by lawmakers.  Nearly always, lawmakers are politicans.  Therefore to be effective, if they haven't yet, activists must politicize.  I have found that the Greens, as the political arm of progessive activism, already make such a huge difference in the policies of other Parties and the dialog of the country, especially during an election!

There were swarms of press, too!  I've never seen so many reporters in one place.  Print, radio, and TV took up most of the lobby and some of the outside! 

Elizabeth, Georges, me (in the garb) and some of the Green Party candidates

Georges kept most of them busy from when he first showed up until Elizabeth arrived, so we jumped straight into her speech instead of his intro after she was mobbed by the media.  They both are always treated like rock stars...  And I admit that I am very pleased with my ability to get the word out.  Sometimes I need to pat myself on the head...

All in all, it was such a successful event that we are already thinking about next year!  Hundreds of people showed up, about 1/4 of them youth - there was fabulous food, great music, fun outfits, and much networking. I'm thrilled that it was so well-received and so well-attended.  Thanks so much to all our wonderful volunteers!  We couldn't have done it without you.  I'd also like to thank all the press for their professionalism and attendance, the techs for their hard work, and most especially Elizabeth and Georges for making this event one of the highlights of the election and Earth Week in Edmonton!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Performance Podcast: "Warrior": Sexual Assult Center fundraiser - 2010

Catching up on my posts...

I don't record most of my performances, but I'm trying to get more into the habit. Local celebrity Glenn Eilers gifted me with a great handheld to encourage just that and I need to remember to use it more often. I should especially have it to hand during the campaign.

This recording was made during Sexual Assault Center of Edmonton fundraiser event on Apr 15, 2010.

One of my favourite pieces.  It's performed a cappella, which is darn helpful since I don't play instruments that can easily accompany me.  I'm also moved by the memories of performing this song on stage with Heather Bishop during the few years I volunteered with Edmonton Vocal Minority.

Many of the other performers on hand that evening are included after.  An honour to donate my time to this invaluable cause!

Podcast: Warrior

by The Wyrd Sisters

I was a shy and lonely girl
with the heavens in my eyes
and as I walked along the lane
I heard the echoes of her cries

I cannot fight
I cannot a warrior be
it’s not my nature nor my teaching
it is the womanhood in me

I was a lost and angry youth
there were no tears in my eyes
I saw no justice in my world
only the echoes of her cries

I cannot fight
I cannot a warrior be
it’s not my nature nor my teaching
it is the womanhood in me

I am an older woman now
and I will heed my own cries
and I will a fierce warrior be
’til not another woman dies

I can and will fight
I can and will a warrior be
it is my nature and my duty
it is the womanhood in me

I can and will fight
I can and will a warrior be
it is my nature and my duty
it is the sisterhood in me

Friday, April 8, 2011

"Reasonably Articulate" - My First Podcasted Speech - April 7, 2011

The above left-handed compliment, one of my personal favourites, was handed to me by the speechwriter for the Liberal candidate in my riding.  Edmonton East is a Conservative stronghold, with almost no chance of anyone else winning, and the first time Liberal candidate still merits a speechwriter!  What kind of resources does that party have, anyway?  I refuse to be envious of that kind of flagrant squandering...  He even had pocket cards!  I on the other hand know Vision Green and my topics so well that my oration was genuine and authentic, with no notes or prepared speech.  It shows a bit, in that I only had a cup of coffee in me, so I wandered a little...  I'm no Elizabeth, after all, but I get by...

So I was torn for the title for the post. My other idea was my internal response to the discovery of the very existence of speechwriters for local candidates in other Parties. "Speechwriters?! We don' need no stinkin' speechwriters!" 'Course, I hear it in Dr. Johnny Fever's voice, so it's funnier...

I hope I was able to inspire a few of the students to vote and maybe do more to empower themselves in their democracy.  I was told that I was really the only one most ppl could hear, even up on the second floor.  A few asked me for buttons, at least one volunteer contact, and one of the young women organizing the event wanted her picture with me!  I felt like such a rock star...  I warned her to take it down from her FB page if she wanted to go to another Party's rally, you know, just in case...

The other candidates did just fine.  With their notes and prepared speeches...  Heh.

PODCAST:  Concordia Speech 2011

Heard first: Shafik Ruda

My first candidate forum of this election, put together by the Student UN of Concordia University.  Participants included myself, Shafik Ruda, first time Liberal Party candidate for Edmonton East, and ARTEM MEDVEDEV , NDP candidate for Edmonton Leduc.  Self-confessed Conservative, Student UN President Brock can be heard butchering my name right at the beginning, though he did fine with the others.  Not suggesting any Freudian slips or anything... Due to his shaking, I'm going to assume that he was just a bit nervous.  Would have accepted an apology, though...
The Conservatives didn't even deign to send a representative.  As is usual for my riding. 

Monday, April 4, 2011

Activist VIDEOS: Some of the most Funny & Thought-Provoking

And yet not too heavy handed.  My kids can watch these, understand and relay the message, without being traumatized.